Unions in the aviation sector have commenced mobilisation of their members for struggle to defend jobs and wages, in the aftermath of the lockdown. A number of the airline operators have given indication that they will be laying off workers due to “bad business” for them.
But, the first company to draw blood from workers is not one of the airlines. It is the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc. (nahco aviance). In a letter signed by Ganiyu Ayobami Afolabi, head of human resources and sent to all staff at the beginning of the month, the company said “management will commence recall of staff to work only on a ‘need basis’ as operation picks up. No staff will resume work until they are so advised.” It also added that every staff not so “advised” to resume is to proceed on an indefinite leave “without pay”.
In a swift reaction, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) have rejected this mass layoff by stealth. In a statement signed by comrades Ochema Aba and Francis Akinjole, General Secretary of NUATE and Deputy General Secretary of ATSSSAN respectively, the two unions declared their “total rejection” of the position of management.
The argument of nahco aviance that revenue was lost since there were no flights as a result of the lockdown only tells part of the story. The company has been making money while paying workers peanuts. For years before the pandemic, the company’s owners have been pocketing between N421m and N600m as profits after tax – every month! This amounts to between N5bn and N7.2bn annually. Now that there is a downturn in their earnings, poor workers must not be allowed to bear the brunt.
These workers have no other means of earning their livelihood, while the bosses who have been making these billions of naira year in year out can very well survive, whilst paying the workers their due wages. People must come before profit!
The sneaky and unilateral manner the company has gone about this layoff also goes to show its utter disdain for workers as a collective body. It is an attempt to divide and rule. Disregarding procedural rules of its collective agreement with the unions is a tactic meant to leave each worker at the mercy of management.
This is not the first time nahco aviance will be acting like this. Four years ago, the workers had to wage a yearlong series of protests for due salary increment, when management sidestepped periodic negotiations with the unions. When victory was eventually won in 2017, the management re-introduced a fraudulent “management support” scheme through which former board members still got huge slices of the pie for doing nothing, while workers were short-changed in the implementation of the increments.
The stakes are much higher now. The unions have to act decisively in the interest of over 200,000 workers in the aviation sector and associated industries. The gambit by nahco aviance is a test case. How the unions address this struggle will either send a warning to the airlines, including Arik Air and Aero Contractors that are gearing up to do likewise, or embolden them.
All unions in the sector have to stand together and organise a 2-day warning strike to make it clear that workers will not allow themselves to be made to bear the burden of the bosses’ crisis of profits. And the time to do so is now – delay could be dangerous!
by Segun OGUN